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In a 2018 review of The Vegetarian, Jiayang Fan brings to light the challenges of translating books from the language in which they were written. At one point in the article, she mentions, “But her writing, too, is rooted in in Korea’s history. This, according to Charse Yun, is what risks getting lost in translation.” This concept relates to similar ones brought up in class throughout this course. One example is Chimamanda Adichie’s claim that many Americans are unable to see the humorous side of Americanah due to a difference in Western humor compared to Nigerian humor. Another is the cultural significance of oppressed women in Woman at Point Zero. These are things that may still resonate with American readers but will most likely be more relatable to its originally intended native audience who are intimately familiar with specific struggles and concepts brought up in these stories.

Some themes dealt with in The Vegetarian are control, violence/violation, freedom/free will, loss, love, and desire. It is safe to say that all of these are universal concepts that we have all experienced at one time or another, but they are still experiences that are unique to each and every one of one; one thing that can significantly influence these experiences is culture. Throughout The Vegetarian, we witness Yeong-hye come up against adversity from her family, who claim that she is disgracing her family by refusing to eat meat. This notion of family honor is prevalent in Asian culture but isn’t typically found in Western culture, which might make it hard for certain readers to relate to Yeong-hye’s situation. Another topic that is explored is the idea of wifely duty, that a wife’s sole job is to fulfill her husband’s every need; again, this is an idea that readers from other parts of the world may relate to more than Western readers. However, there are certain experiences in this book that any reader can easily identify with, such as Yeong-hye’s abusive relationship with her father, In-hye’s husband’s desire to make a name for himself in his chosen field of art, and In-hye’s desire to be more than just a wife and mother. Overall, though there are definitely certain ideas in stories that can get lost in translation due to differences in culture, there are often many familiar underlying themes—freedom, tragedy, fulfillment, etc.—to be found when these works are examined closely enough.

Link to article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/15/han-kang-and-the-complexity-of-translation

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